I told Pete yesterday that I wasn't sure how I was going to get it all done before bedtime. The kids were outside and I had a little grumble session, rattling off a list of all that I needed to do in the next 24 hours. At the top of the list was peel and seed – and then can – the tomatoes, stem and process the green beans, and make pickles. Somehow I had bushels of produce piling up on my porch and in my kitchen and I needed to put the time in to deal with them. The fruit flies were starting to gather.
And then the kids came in for lunch.
When Sage got to the kitchen he saw the big pot of water simmering away on the stove. "Whatcha doin'? Are you peeling tomatoes? I'll do it. I want to peel tomatoes!" And before I knew what had happened my kids had set up two work stations at the table and peeled, cored, and seeded a half-bushel of our garden tomatoes.
I was both grateful and amazed. You see, a long time ago we stopped forcing chores. When I'm overwhelmed I experiment with it once in a while, but it always leaves a bad taste in everyone's mouth. Forcing participation in the day-to-day workings of the family teaches that everyone must participate for the family to function (a good lesson) but it also teaches that participating in said work really sucks. Helping is not fun when you are forced to help, so I believe the positive lessons are mostly missed. So I stopped doing it.
My kids do help – every day even – but they usually get to choose how. Lupine hates clearing and washing her dishes, but she likes setting the table and wiping it down. She also loves mopping, cleaning the bathroom, and folding laundry. Do I really need to force her to wash her plate? If so, to what end?
And by preserving the notion that helping is fun, they don't hesitate to jump in and participate in our life – simply for the joy of it. And to me that's the best lesson of all.
Oh, and as for that messy work of processing tomatoes? Both my kids are pretty sensitive when it comes to anything tactile. Lupine couldn't seed a tomato with her eyes open. But tomato after tomato she kept at it, simultaneously amused and disgusted. It was awesome.